Insight, More Pledging
29 June 2002
Well, good morning, all. I finished Rules of Conflict yesterday, although I left it home when Mark and I went up to Berkeley -- not enough left in it to hold me for the whole trip up and back. We took BART up, picked up a present for Scott's birthday that Alec had been hanging onto for us (only Alec wasn't there, at the store where he works, whose name I won't say, lest Scott read this and have an inkling of birthday presentness, so I got the present but didn't have a chance to say hi to Alec), and ate noodles at Long Life. Moo goo gee. Yum. We stopped through Games of Berkeley, where there were many small people playing Magic. Very small. When I played Magic, back around the dawn of time, the average age of player was around 16 or 17. At that store, it looked like 10 would have been pushing it. It seems like a good game for small children to start on, though, and they were shrill and happy and dramatic, and they reveled in their own ability to say "hell" without anybody collaring them and scolding them.
On the train, I read some of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, because it was one of the books in Donald Maass' book that sounded interesting. Hmm. I'm wondering if any of you have read it, and if so, what you thought. Because I'm halfway through it right now, and I can see the strings the whole way. It's a very consciously manipulative book. The interjections of melodrama are very carefully spaced, and visibly so. But I don't know if that's just that I'm used to thinking about how to achieve various effects in the course of writing a novel. In some ways, Tartt is a very good puppeteer. It's just that I would have preferred to watch the front of the stage rather than the back.
Well...I wonder how many key insights there are in a book. Sometimes I think that question can be answered by how many days you work on it, because that's how many times you need to have some insight. But then insight begins to sound too much like inspiration, and I don't believe you have to be inspired every day to work. I think it's more about learning. If you're not learning from what you're writing, a bit at a time in ways that you aren't always even conscious of, it doesn't seem like you're doing it right. And sometimes I do it wrong, too, so that's not an accusation. Just...a goal statement, I guess. Inspiration seems to be set apart from work, in most people's minds. You are inspired, and then you work. Lack of inspiration is a classic beginning writer's excuse. And inspiration supposedly comes from nothing. If you say that you were inspired by the girl in the BART station with the armful of butter-colored roses, you are being appropriately artistic, but very few people take you literally. (Never mind that sometimes you do mean it literally.)
Insight seems somewhat more circular: you work, you gain insight from the work, you work some more, you gain some more insight, and so on. I think this is where multiple projects come in handy, because then you've given your brain a wider field in which to work, and the insights can range around. They don't get lost just because your brain has nowhere to apply them.
I don't mean to say I don't get inspired. I do. But I don't trust inspiration. There's nothing I can do about inspiration except recognize it when it shows up. But insight can be fed, nurtured, challenged, expanded upon; insight can be discussed; insight can even be refuted. I am more comfortable with things that might be wrong. I like being able to be wrong.
I can hear some of my friends saying, "You must spend many happy days, then!" Well, yes. But also no. In many cases, my arguments with my friends are a matter of finding out where my worldview differs from someone else's. One of us will have totally different data than the other, or we'll get down to the level of choices that are not made rationally. And then we'll just have to say, "Okay, well, I see that you feel that way" or even "I understand why you think that; given the data you just told me you have or the gut-level beliefs you hold, it does follow." At that point, one of us might be wrong, but it's not something we can really argue (unless you count "Nuh-uh!" "Yuh-huh!" as an argument). And that's always interesting in its own way. But what's much rarer is when I keep digging into an argument and finding that I agree with the other person on the fundamentals of what we're talking about and disagree on the particulars. That's the best way of being able to be wrong. I like those best.
Some of the insights aren't deep-level wrong, they're just me neglecting a factor or a fact, which I sometimes figure out and sometimes have pointed out to me, and that's good, too. But this is one of the main reasons why I often have a hard time letting go of an argument: if it hasn't gotten down to the bedrock yet, I don't have a good grasp on whether the other person and I are in fundamental disagreement on an aspect of How The World Is, or whether one of us might be arguably wrong. (It's also a reason why I have an easier time letting go of arguments after I've known people for awhile. I no longer feel like I need to e-mail Michelle or David or Evan, for example, if we've been in a discussion and they let it drop for awhile. I can sometimes even just let it drop myself. Because I know that there are some ways in which I just fundamentally disagree with each of them and probably always will. So if I don't feel that they're demonstrably personally endangered or likely to hurt anyone else if they're wrong and I'm right, well, okay then. We don't have to get down to the bedrock every single time any more. I accept that despite areas of commonality, we have large areas of disagreement in fairly fundamental ways. And that's all right.)
Anyway...oh, in case any of you were confused: monotheism is a religion. It is. It's a larger class of religion than we often deal with, but it is, in fact, a religion. Just as Christianity is a religion, even though it's a larger class than Lutheranism or the specific denomination Lutheran Congregations In Mission For Christ or the specific beliefs of one member of that denomination. It's still a religion.
And: leaving God out of a pledge no more makes it atheist than leaving Jesus out of a prayer makes it Jewish. Putting Jesus in a prayer makes it not Jewish, sure, and putting God in a pledge makes it not atheist. But atheism isn't just "lack of reference to God" any more than Judaism is "lack of belief in Jesus." I am not, for example, wearing an atheist nightgown right now. I'm not looking at an atheist mousepad through atheist glasses just because all of these things lack explicit reference to God. Lack of reference is not reference of lack. If people were arguing that the Pledge of Allegiance should now read, "One nation, under no God because no such thing exists," that would be the establishment of atheism (if and only if a public official in his/her capacity as a public official...you know all that stuff, right?). Nobody that I've heard of has proposed this as a solution. So stop saying that atheism is becoming the established religion. It's not.
Also: a generic, inoffensive God offends me. There is no such thing as a God so bland that no one who believes in (a) God could possibly be offended by that God. No matter what some Unitarians would like you to think. (Aaah! It's all a Unitarian conspiracy!) (People: I am kidding. About the Unitarian conspiracy, I mean. I'm really not kidding about being offended by GeneriGod.)
In all of this Pledge of Allegiance uproar, nobody seems to have come up with a good reason why God should be in there in the first place. Anybody? I'd like to know.
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